Grading the 2017 Patriots: Offense rose, defense fell but team ended up in same place

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(Adam Richins for BSJ)

Before an NFL team turns the page on the previous season and moves forward to the next, they put the team and their players under a microscope to see what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to be changed/altered to make progress in 2018.

For example, the Patriots realized they had slipped in offensive big-play percentage in 2016. To address that, New England traded a first-round pick to the Saints for Brandin Cooks. As a result, the Patriots went from tied for 18th in plays of 10-plus yards (207) to fourth (234).

Obviously, we have no idea what the Patriots’ internal grading looks like, and we don’t anticipate Bill Belichick opening up his grade book anytime soon. So, we’re left to do our homework with some assistance from people who have knowledge of how the Patriots view things.

So we’ll start our dissection (which is an homage to my mentor, Bob McGinn) with an overview of the team and positions, and then we’ll move onto individual player grades/assessments. Finally, we’ll conclude with our imitated but never duplicated offseason depth chart coded for performance and contract status, and with a comprehensive analysis of team needs headed into the ’18 offseason.

Here’s the schedule for the multi-part series:

Today: Team/season overview
Friday: Team category grades
Saturday: Quarterbacks and running backs
Sunday: Receivers and tight ends
Monday: Offensive line
Tuesday: Defensive interior/edge
Wednesday: Linebackers
March 8: Cornerbacks/safeties
March 9: Special teams
March 10: Depth chart/team needs/areas of concern

And with that, let's get started...

The 2017 season ended in disappointing fashion with a 41-33 loss to the Eagles in the Super Bowl, but as usual, the Patriots’ season was largely a success, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Thanks to an infusion of talent and health among the running backs and receivers, each of the four positional groups on offense improved over a season ago in comparing game grades even with the season-ending injury to Julian Edelman.

Conversely, on defense,